It’s Not All Mary Poppins

A bit of a mystery…

Lily comes in wailing. She’s been doing that for the last little while. The sudden reversal, however, is not the mystery. It’s not unusual for a previously chipper child to suddenly evidence reluctance, even outright distress, at drop-offs. Parents love to speculate why this happens — a visiting gramma, a cold, some disruption of the routine — and sometimes they’re right. Very often, however, it’s just another of those inexplicable vagaries of young children. Something set them off, obviously, but we will likely never know what it is. This particular one usually goes away by itself in fairly short order, so long as all the adults stay calm and upbeat in the child’s presence. Don’t make a big deal of it, and it won’t be one. It will pass. As so many things do.

The more I work with young children, the less I worry about the ‘why’ of things. Sometimes it’s obvious, and I’m happy when it is, but mostly we have to respond to things without knowing the ‘why’. And you know what? It works. You hardly ever really need to know why.

Why do we want to know why? Because it gives we adults a feeling of control, or, in this case, competence. If we know why something is happening, we’re three-quarters of the way to solving it, right? Weeellllll… maybe… Thing is, you’re never going to be totally in control (which is not an excuse for out-of-control children, ahem) and, more importantly, knowing why has essentially NO correlation to competence. You can be 100% in the dark about why something is happening, and still be a very competent parent.

I am a competent caregiver, and sometimes I have only the foggiest inklings of why something is happening. But I am also a very experienced caregiver, which means I don’t sweat it. My own curiosity would looooove to know what on earth is going on in that wee mind, but if I never find out, it doesn’t mean I’m one whit less effective and competent as a caregiver.

Kids are weird, is all.

Just like the rest of us…

So. Lily. Coming in wailing. In fact, I do have a theory: she’s tired. She comes in wailing, and stays whiny as long as she’s awake. She needs 100% of my attention. I must hold her at all times. If I so much as look at another child, the low-level whine ratchets up a notch. If I set her down, she moves up to full-bore wailing. If another child inadvertently bumps into her, in the bumper-car way of a semi-coordinated, oblivious toddler, she wails louder. If I serve apples for snack and she wanted Cheerios, she wails. (She ALWAYS wants Cheerios, and, sadly for her, I serve them only intermittently.)

In short, she is one miserable little camper. Miserable in herself, miserable to be around.

But put her down for a nap, and, after some initial wailing, she settles in for a substantial snooze. And when she wakes? Lily’s Evil Twin has left us (praise be) and Delightful Lily is back. Delightful Lily, let it hereby be related, is the cutest, funnest, nicest, just the most damned engaging child you’d ever want to meet. I adore Delightful Lily. The Evil Twin… not so adorable. At all.

The contrast between Tired Lily and Rested Lily is dramatic. Doctor Jekyll had nothing on this kid.

So I’m pretty sure I know the root cause of this particular behaviour. Even better, Lily sort of gets it, too. For the last week or so, when she arrives, wailing, she will lie her head on my shoulder and say (in a long, drawn-out, truly annoying whine), “Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaap!”

Well, okay then. Good to know we’re on the same page, sister.

Here’s where it gets weird. So I put her down, for the nap she asked for. I give her her soother, tuck her in and say, “Have a nice nap. When you wake up, you will feel SO MUCH BETTER!!” Because she will.

And Lily? Now that she’s all settled in for the nap she demanded?

She cries.



So I go into her room. “Lily, do you want to have a nap?”


This seems clear enough, but I’m canny enough to know that it often pays to ask the opposite question. If I get a “yes” to it… well, it’s just not so clear anymore, darnit.

“Do you want to come upstairs?”


That seems clear enough. Let’s double-check.

“Do you want to play blocks with Rory?”

“No! Nap!”

Okay, then. She doesn’t want to come upstairs, she doesn’t want to play, she wants to nap. All-righty, then. Napping is good. We can do that. So I leave the room, and…

she wails.

Is that not so weird?

Toddlers are weird.

And this one is also tired, so… I walk away. We both know what she needs, but I can’t do it for her. And in a few minutes (5? 10? 15?) all is quiet.

Ninety minutes or so later, she wakes, cheerful, happy and ready for her day.

But what a noodle. She’s tired, she knows it. She doesn’t want to be up and playing, she wants a nap. So I give her the time and space and comfy spot to have that nap, and she OBJECTS!


December 6, 2010 Posted by | Lily, sleep | , , | 6 Comments